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Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.Allan Schwartz, Ph.D.
Dr. Schwartz's Weblog

Of Self-Compassion and Connection to Others

Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D. Updated: Aug 27th 2013

Of Self-Compassion and Connection to OthersWe live in a competive and aggressive world. Now, many of us believe we have to work three jobs not because we must but because we want more. It is not enough to do well at work but we want promotions and recognition. In fact, regardless of what is achieved it is never enough because, in the quest for self-esteem more is needed before it's possible to be convinced. However, all of this competitiveness ends up making most of us feel like failures. That is where we develop strong self critical feelings of self-hatred. We believe that we have not made enough money, are not smart enough and are not perfect. Actually, this inner self-destructive dialogue makes us feel disconnected from others. At this point it's important to look at a couple of definitions by clinical psychologist and author of a wonderful book called "Self-Compassion, Stop Beating Yourself Up..."
Compassion Defined by Kristin Neff:

"Having compassion for oneself is really no different than having compassion for others. Think about what the experience of compassion feels like. First, to have compassion for others you mustic notice that they are suffering. If you ignore that homeless person on the street, you can’t feel compassion for how difficult his or her experience is. Second, compassion involves feeling moved by others' suffering so that your heart responds to their pain (the word compassion literally means to “suffer with”). When this occurs, you feel warmth, caring, and the desire to help the suffering person in some way. Having compassion also means that you offer understanding and kindness to others when they fail or make mistakes, rather than judging them harshly. Finally, when you feel compassion for another (rather than mere pity), it means that you realize that suffering, failure, and imperfection is part of the shared human experience. 'There but for fortune go I.'"

Self-Compassion Defined by Kristin Neff:

"Self-compassion involves acting the same way towards yourself when you are having a difficult time, fail, or notice something you don’t like about yourself. Instead of just ignoring your pain with a “stiff upper lip” mentality, you stop to tell yourself “this is really difficult right now,” how can I comfort and care for myself in this moment? Instead of mercilessly judging and criticizing yourself for various inadequacies or shortcomings, self-compassion means you are kind and understanding when confronted with personal failings – after all, who ever said you were supposed to be perfect..."

"...This is the human condition, a reality shared by all of us. The more you open your heart to this reality instead of constantly fighting against it, the more you will be able to feel compassion for yourself and all your fellow humans in the experience of life." 

The failure of compassion and self-compassion leaves us disconnected from others. Disconnection makes us feel angry, wanting to over eat, and irritable. That is why, when your spouse returns from a trip, you may at first feel irritable.  We all become disconnected in every relationship because we have different needs, history, DNA, and come from different families, groups, races, religions and so on. At the same time we need connection. However, we need connection or we do not feel well.

As Thich Nhat Hanh, perhaps the greatest Zen masters in the world and teachers of "the art of mindful living," points out, everything is connected to everything else. One example he gives is that if you try you can see the cloud on the paper. In other words, the cloud brings rain that helps the trees in the forest to grow which are then chopped down and made into paper. Everything is connected to everything else.

Carl Sagan had a similar way of looking at the same concept: "if you want to make wheat you need to invent the universe." The nature of the universe is such that everything is connected.

That is what those quotes mean. Man needs to feel connected to others. Without that connection loneliness and depression result.

The purpose of mindful living that embraces meditation with self compassion is to help people feel connected to others and feel peace within. With self-compassion there can be compassion for others. That is why self-compassion is not selfish. In building self compassion it is necessary to remind oneself that imperfection lies in everyone. That is what enables self compassion.

Christopher Germer, in his book "The Mindful Path to Self-Compassion," discusses a mantra that helps build both compassion and self-compassion:

May I be safe
May I be healthy
May I be happy
May I have ease

However, the Montra can include others:

May you be safe
May you be healthy May you be happy
May you have ease

It can include yourself and others:

May you and I be safe
May you and I be healthy
May you and I be happy
May you and I have ease.

These mantras can be said while meditating or during the course of the day while attending to work and other tasks.

These books are available and are good reads.

To my readers:

May you be safe
May you be healthy May you be happy
May you have ease

It is important to note that there are excellent psychotherapists who, like Kristin Neff and Christopher Germer, combine psychotherapy with mindful self-compassion.

Allan N. Schwartz, PhD


Allan Schwartz, LCSW, Ph.D.

Readers who live in the Boulder, Colorado metro area, or in Southwest Florida may contact Dr. Schwartz for face-to-face consultation. He is also available for psychotherapy through Skype video for those who are not in Florida or Colorado. He can be reached via email at for details.

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